Lawmakers Take Aim at Iran’s Missiles, Omitted From Nuclear Talks

By Patrick Goodenough | June 9, 2015 | 4:22 AM EDT

A military exhibition displays a missile, reportedly a Shahab-3, under a picture of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, in 2008. The Shahab-3 has a range that could threaten Israel and the Arab Gulf states. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Three weeks before the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, lawmakers will hold a hearing Wednesday on an issue that was left off the agenda at the nuclear talks – ballistic missiles.

The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa has invited intelligence and security experts to testify on “Iran’s enduring ballistic missile threat.”

When Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – on April 2 announced a “framework” understanding on which a final agreement due by June 30 will be based, there was no mention of Iran’s missiles.

“There are many glaring omissions from the Obama administration and P5+1’s nuclear negotiations with Iran that cause many to worry and rightly call the possible deal weak and dangerous,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

“Perhaps the biggest failure of the negotiations was to limit it to just the nuclear profile and not include Iran’s other illicit activity, most notably its ballistic missile program.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has for years reported on concerns that the Iranians have carried out work relating to developing a nuclear payload for a missile. Five of the six U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue adopted between 2006 and 2010 cite the ballistic missile threat.

But from early on in the nuclear negotiations Iran refused to discuss a matter which it said falls under its right to “defend” itself from outside aggression.

In February 2004 supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused U.S. negotiators of “bringing up human rights issues and Iran’s missile and defense capabilities” in the talks, and declared that Iran “will never succumb to the bullying and blackmailing of the hegemonic order.”

Although it was not on the table in the talks in Switzerland and Austria, the Obama administration disputes that the issue will be ignored in a final nuclear agreement.

A White House fact sheet on the “parameters” of the Apr. 2 framework deal states that a final agreement will be endorsed in a new U.N. Security Council resolution that will also incorporate “[i]mportant restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles.”

Iranian leaders have disputed the accuracy of key elements of the U.S. fact sheet.

The administration acknowledges that concerns about ballistic missiles will not disappear once a nuclear agreement is concluded. But it also says that an Iran deprived of the ability to develop a nuclear weapon will likely pose less of a danger in other areas.

“Reaching a comprehensive deal will not alter our commitment to fighting Iran’s efforts to spread instability and support terrorism,” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an American Jewish Committee audience on Monday. “This will not change – with or without a deal.”

But an Iran without a nuclear weapon, Blinken continued, “will be far less emboldened to take destabilizing actions in the region. It will reduce the pressure for a regional nuclear arms race and strengthen the international nonproliferation regime. In short, it is a critical step to greater global security – for the United States, for Israel, and for all of our partners in the region.”

Last week the Washington Free Beacon reported on a new Pentagon assessment that Iran, even as it has paused some nuclear activities, “continues to develop technological capabilities that also could be applicable to nuclear weapons, including ballistic missile development.”

Citing that report, Ros-Lehtinen said “Iran’s continued work on its ballistic missile program, and reports that Iran’s nuclear material stockpile have actually grown during the nuclear negotiations, demonstrate the regime’s clear and undeniable intent to develop a nuclear weapon.”

“This hearing will allow our members to discuss the threat Iran’s ballistic missile program presents to regional security as well as U.S. national security, and to hear from experts recommendations on what steps need to be taken to mitigate these threats,” she said.

Invited to testify at Wednesday’s hearing are former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lieut. Gen. Michael Flynn, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security Robert Joseph, Prof. David Cooper of the U.S. Naval War College’s Department of National Security Affairs, and Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar Anthony Cordesman.

In late 2011 report, the IAEA said there was “credible” evidence that Iran had carried out “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.” It cited work on detonator designs, including detonator devices that could be used in a nuclear weapon and could fit in a ballistic missile warhead.

Last March the IAEA said the concerns have not been allayed.

“The agency remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano wrote in a report to the agency’s board of governors.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow